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Department Of Corporate Sustenance

You know when people say that gamers just sit in their pants and do nothing all day? We all know they’re lying of course, (I mean, I went outside today. And yesterday. I didn’t like the cold, so I came back inside and carried on playing Deus Ex), but this time we can have proof. Ever heard of an ARG?

An Alternative Reality Game is one where it isn’t played on a board, or on a server, or with some dice: It’s using real life to run it. The closest mainstream one we’ve seen recently has been the Portal 2 Potato ARG that Valve and various other indie developers did to set the scene and get the game out early. It just began with this:

That was back in March. 2010. They put in subtle hints like that a whole year before release*.

Then we had the joys of the ARG in the 2-3 weeks coming up to release, including something like the following chain of logic:

  1. Notice that Cogs had a new soundfile added, named “Secret.”
  2. Open it up in Audiosurf and discover a secret level, which when completed downloads an extra file.
  3. Open that file and see a password and a hint.
  4. Play Killing Floor and find a certain spot with a computer, and type that password in to unlock a recording of GLaDOS saying something and get a potato.
  5. Repeat, but with different games.
You thought adventure game logic was bad? Thought the Cat Moustache puzzle in Gabriel Knight was strange, but loved every second of it? This sort of thing is paramount in most ARGs, but with the advantage of having other people who all, for some inexplicable reason, have specialist knowledge in cryptography, Morse code, the significance of bananas in the Bible and other stuff which is… strange.

I’ve always wanted to know more about these things, but they’re notoriously difficult to break into — because of the nature of them, you usually have to be there at the start or people get upset with you for not knowing anything about the plot or current state of affairs. Some ARG players can be real douches sometimes, and it’s can be a real off-putter. Like we all know, gaming socially tends to be good fun, so going into the forums or whatever they use to solve them (and they’re needed so that the people in charge can work out where people are up to). Luckily for you, I think another one has literally just started here in Britain.

That’s not to say that it’ll be a pain for you to join, since I’m not sure how it’s working (it’s far too early to tell): Perplex City had an event where people met at the location, all received a text saying “We’re one step ahead of you, look outside” and all saw a bunch of military helicopters, and the finale ended with a cash prize. Even if the story is moved on with the physical events, there’ll be something that you can do: searching the source code of a HTML page to find secrets, or uncovering the cipher that leads to the next puzzle requires a mind, and that’s about it. I’m fairly certain this is just starting, because I’ve only just seen things about it appear. The first email from the site has just got to my inbox (hence me writing this now). Since you probably won’t have this email, I may as well add it here:

You are receiving this email from h4cknslash, a collective of hackers from Europe and beyond.

Following the surfacing of the video at, we have breached the computer systems of the Department of Corporate Sustenance, with the intention of exposing the truth about the Department once and for all.

What we have discovered is more terrible than any of us could have imagined.

To learn for yourself the truth about the Department’s activities, log in to the Restricted Area of the Department’s website using these details, obtained from an internal database:

username: gosborne

password: suckers

The Department may deny Freedom of Information requests, but it cannot deny h4cknslash. Spread the truth far and wide, friends.

h4cknslash collective

The video in question? This:

That oughta get you started. I’ll admit that I’m not particularly knowledgeable about ARGs — the only ones that spring to mind are BBC’s Jamie Kane, Perplex City and the 2008 Olympics one and I’ve only played Jamie Kane. I believe there was another called In Memorium, which was a PC game with ARG elements, which apparently all still works except that googling any of the parts you’re meant to google means you just get In Memorium walkthroughs. I’m going to keep an eye on this one at least. I don’t know what I’ll get to do, but I’m hoping that I get to do some fun stuff.


*And of course, everyone assumed it was going to be Half Life 2: Episode 3. Grumble. Actually, I have a fun tale about Ep3. At the 2009 EuroGamer convention, Doug Lombardi was showing off Left 4 Dead 2. One of my online friends went to chat with him, and finished by saying “So, what’s happening with Episode 3?”, which Doug responded with by walking backwards into the crowd and was swallowed. My friend attempted to follow but couldn’t get through the crowd. True story.

Patrick is actually just a figment of the ARG he’s playing in your head. You should check the source code of the site he “edits” called How To Play and see if there’s any secret links in the source code.

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  1. Rich R. says:

    I was all over The Dark Knight ARG “Why So Serious” when it was out. Holy hell, that thing was nuts. I’m actually following 2 others right now, one for the new Resident Evil game and one for 5 gum.

    I honestly believe ARGs are an excellent way to market a product or service. I don’t even chew gum that much anymore (I have TMJ, so the luxury of chewing without excruciating pain escapes me), but the 5 gum ARG has led me to buy multiple packs of the stuff, just for codes (I at least give the gum to my little sister). By introducing a narrative and making you a very integral part in said narrative, it makes players more invested in the products they’re selling and more inclined to buy.

  2. Patrick Rose says:

    I’ve heard of Marble Hornets, but I’m also what people call “a pansy faced child bedwetter”.

    I had a tough childhood.

  3. movingjpegs says:

    Sweet! I love ARGs, and ever since the Haunted Majora’s Mask/Moon Children/Within Hubris/whatever the hell the actual title is got put on hold indefinitely I’ve been looking for a new one I can hop on board with.
    Thanks for the heads up!
    Marble Hornets is another relatively popular one, and it’s into a third arc. You can find it mostly on youtube, but they also have a wiki.

  4. Patrick Rose says:

    On a scale of 1 to disappointed, I think this makes me 3 disappointeds.

  5. Jen says:

    According to the Facebook page for the Department of Corporate Sustenance …

    “At 6.30pm on 12th September, over 100 members of the public dressed as Zombie bankers will stage a flashmob outside Canary Wharf tube station where they will ‘feed’ on doctors, nurses, teachers and other public sector workers in a spectacular orgy of fake blood and gore ”!/notes/department-of-corporate-sustenance/press-release-zombie-bankers-to-feast-upon-nurses-doctors-and-teachers-in-canary/271980586162695

  6. Ellen says:

    Very interesting. Also I agree with KBF: bilge.

  7. shannon jose says:

    Read Generation X its the furture

  8. KBF says:

    Great article; always intrigued by ARGs, but never find myself on the ground floor. And, uh, bilge! =)